Your basic FAQ for wine
My favorite part of any wine talk that I might give is when I’m done — not because the talk is over but because, before it’s over, I get to answer people’s questions. I loves me my Q&A. Here are some recent questions about wine that I’ve been asked, and their answers. Good questions make for good talk.
In my wine rack I have a 1989 Beaujolais Nouveau that I received as a gift. Is it still drinkable?
No. Some people consider Beaujolais Nouveau never drinkable. But whatever the merits of Beaujolais Nouveau, its primary calling card is its youthful freshness, its just-out-of-the-vat baby fat. Your bottle went south somewhere early in 1990, two dozen years ago.
The second most frequent question that people ask me (after “What wine to serve with (fill in food)?”) is about their old soldier in the cellar. Does it still “got the goods?” Ivory Soap answer: 99.4 percent chance “No.”
When you describe a wine as having “super beautiful scents of cherries and spice,” does that mean that the winemaker puts cherry juice and ground spice in the wine?
No. This is just the kind of language that anyone uses to describe the sensations of the wine. All we can do when we describe wine, apart from expressing our feelings that it’s delicious or pleases us (or the opposite), is use language that gets at those sensations.
For instance, the aroma and flavor of cherry is common to wines made of the red grape sangiovese. Saying that a sangiovese-based wine has “super beautiful scents of cherries” is merely a way to validate to another person that what’s in the glass is sangiovese.
How many grapes go into a bottle of wine?
Well, that depends on the size of the grapes; some are large and full of juice; others, smaller and more skin and seed than much else.
As an average, it takes the juice of about two pounds of grapes to fill a 750-milliliter bottle. That’s anywhere from around 500 corpulent merlot grapes to 900 wee albarino grapes. Grapes grow in bunches; that’s between five and six bunches of grapes per bottle.
What’s the best way to learn about wine?
Frankly, the best way is to pay attention, over time, to your palate: What do you register in a taste of wine, and do you like it and why?
But lots of things can help you with that, books and online resources and things that you can do for yourself. My favorite basic wine-education book is Kevin Zraly’s “Windows on the World Complete Wine Course.” My favorite learning site is winefolly.com (such cool infographics!).
But my favorite suggestion to anyone wanting to learn more about wine is to put together a tasting group, six to eight friends who gather once a week or so to taste a bunch of wines. Arrange the wines around a theme (sauvignon blancs from around the world, say, or reds from the Rhone), taste them and talk about them.
And the absolute best way to do that is to compare one wine with another, tasting two wines at a time. What do you see, smell, taste and feel in a sip of this wine? How does any of that differ in a sip of that wine? Which do you prefer? Why?
You will learn so much about wine, in such short order, that your tongue will curl.
Why are some wines so expensive? I cannot believe the prices of some wines.
Many factors contribute to the cost of a bottle of wine, from the $3 for “Two Buck Chuck” to the thousands listed in auction catalogs for some rare bottles.
Demand raises prices on wines produced in minuscule amounts from small regions. Burgundy is a good example, but even the enormous amounts of wine made by the top-ranked chateaux in Bordeaux are sought by thousands of well-heeled consumers.
Long corks, specially made bottles, fancy labeling, an expensive marketing department, alimony, three kids in college — a lot of things can contribute to the cost of the expensive wines.